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Egyptian court convicts four police officers over prisoner deaths

An Egyptian court has convicted four policemen over the deaths of 37 Islamists while in police custody. The incident occurred during a crackdown on supporters of toppled President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

The court in the capital, Cairo, sentenced Lieutenant Colonel Amr Farouk to 10 years in jail with labor after convicting him of involuntary manslaughter and extreme negligence in connection with the August 2013 incident.

Three other police officers were handed suspended sentences for their involvement in the events that led to the death of the 37 prisoners, while being transported to prison.

A judicial source to the AFP news agency the judges had agreed with the prosecution's argument, that all four of the convicted me had acted recklessly during the operation, which led to the prisoners' deaths.

All 37 died after tear gas was fired into the police van that was carrying them last August 18.

During the trial, the court heard testimony from seven other prisoners who survived the incident. A justice ministry expert meanwhile, told the court that the van, which had a capacity of 24 people, had been packed with almost double that on the day the prisoners died.

Shortly after the incident, supporters of Islamist former President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military last July, had accused the police of killing the prisoners while they were bein transported. The military-installed government, though, claimed that police had resorted to the use of tear gas in a bid to restore order after prisoners inside the vehicle started to riot. It also said the incident had occurred after an attempted prison break.

Hundred of members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood have been killed since the government launched its crackdown on Morsi's supporters, which began shortly after the military forced Egypt's first democratically elected president from power.

The Brotherhood has accused the military-backed government of massive human rights abuses. The government has denied this and banned the movement, declaring it a terrorist organization posing a grave security threat.

Amnesty International has put the number of people killed in the crackdown at an estimated 1,400, with thousands of others arrested. It has accused Egypt's police of using excessive power against Islamist demonstrators.

pfd/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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